Let’s face it. We’re not going to change the world.
The other day, I was having lunch with Mushim, a dharma teacher, writer/poet, friend and my meditation teacher. She asked me what my thoughts were, from the perspective of Kingian Nonviolence, on the current crises in the Gaza Strip.
At first, I mumbled something unintelligible, as I tend to do with such large questions. I eventually turned to the second principle of Kingian Nonviolence: The Beloved Community is the Framework of the Future.
There are two aspects of this principle that I feel apply here. One is the idea of the Beloved Community, a reconciled world, a world where Jewish and Palestinian communities have found a way to live together in true, long-lasting, sustainable peace that is grounded in justice for all people.
Seeing the news of what is happening there today, it’s hard to imagine a world like that ever being possible. And to me, that’s where the second aspect of this principle comes in. That the idea of the Beloved Community is the framework of the FUTURE. Like, hundreds of years into the future.
We are not going to change the world because we are not enough. Not on our own. In some ways, it is arrogant of us to think that we alone can change the world. No, in order to truly change the world, in order to truly build real positive peace grounded in real justice, we need to rely on future generations.
Peace in a place like Israel and Palestine, where the history of conflict goes back multiple generations, is not going to happen overnight. Even if we can come together to pressure various governments and implement a cease-fire, that “peace” will be at best a temporary, negative peace. Stopping two communities from killing each other and reconciling hundreds of years of conflict and creating Beloved Community are two completely different things.
Positive peace, a peace that includes justice for all people, is a long-term process. Whether you are trying to build peace in Palestine or in the streets of Oakland, you’re looking at undoing hundreds of years of systemic violence, oppression, injustice and separation. Thinking that we can change things overnight will drive us mad, and when we fail in accomplishing that goal, that’s when we begin to lose our faith. Our faith needs to be grounded in something greater.
Many of you have heard me talk about East Point’s 250-year work-plan and the living bridges of Meghalaya. In Meghalaya, people build bridges out of living root systems, weaving them together when they are young saplings and guiding them into strong, powerful bridges that span from one bank of the river to the other. These bridges sometimes take generations to build. The people who tend to them do so knowing that they themselves will never walk on those bridges. Their children will continue to tend to them, and eventually future generations will be able to reach the other bank. All they are doing is their part, tending to their portion of the bridge.
To me, that is the patience, humility and faith that we need to learn. We need to have the humility to accept our little role in this multi-generational movement towards Beloved Community. We need to have faith that future generations will continue to build that bridge so that one day, our ancestors will be able to reach the other bank.
We live today in a world of instant gratification, where we expect results immediately. Between microwaves, twitter, smart phones and google, we expect everything to happen right away. And when they don’t, we get frustrated. We lose faith.
We lose faith every time a new bomb drops, every time another person is killed in our streets, every time new anti-immigrant legislation is passed. But what if we had faith in something greater then what we see immediately in front of us? What if we had faith that, with the wisdom of past generations and the work of future generations, we can defeat any injustice? What if we had faith not just in the work of our generation, but the work of all generations?
I know that’s a hard thing to swallow with so much suffering in the world today. And I’m in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t work as hard as we can in our time to reach Beloved Community. We actually need to aim higher than is reasonable, and at the same time be okay with however close or far we get to that goal, because we know that in the future, we as a people will get there.
And that was the message that Dr. King left for us in the final speech he ever gave, just hours before his assassination. In his historic speech in Memphis, just after seemingly foretelling his own death, he spoke of getting to the mountaintop and seeing the promised land. And because he had seen that promised land, he was not afraid of anything that might happen to him. That even though he may not get to the promised land himself, he had faith that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
If we were okay waiting a hundred, two-hundred, five-hundred years to accomplish our goal, how big could our dreams be? If we had so much faith that future generations will see Beloved Community that we were no longer attached to “us” being the ones to bring it about and “us” needing to see that change, how much strength would that give us?
We can’t change the world. At least not alone. But with the help of past and future generations? I believe that we can.